Isle of Wight Rifles - History - The First World War

History

First World War

In 1913, Lieutenant Colonel John Rhodes took command. He offered a £1 bounty for joining and as a result a number of men from the mainland joined up in preference to other units. In 1914, the Rifles were mobilised to man local fortifications. The First Battalion of 900 men were raised for foreign service and a second battalion of 900 raised for home service. Training commenced, firstly at Parkhurst and then at Bury St. Edmunds and Watford. On 30 July 1915 they sailed from Liverpool aboard the Aquitania (some wood of which now forms a bar in Sandown Broadway) as part of the 163rd Infantry Brigade, 54th East Anglian Division to Gallipoli.

Suvla Bay

An Allied force under Lieutenant General Frederick Stopford had landed at Suvla Bay on 7 and 8 August 1915. The beach led to a plain overlooked by a range of hills. Stopford (who set up his command post in a sloop - HMS Juno- anchored offshore) took the beaches but waited whilst stores were landed before occupying the empty hills. By the time he decided to move upon them the Turks had filled them full of artillery and infantry. The 163rd Brigade, consisting of the 1/5th Suffolk 4th & 5th Norfolk, & 1/8 Hampshires (I.W.Rifles) were landed on 10 August 1915 in order to attack the Turkish positions on Anafurta Ridge. Stopford delayed the attack wishing to make good losses in his lines until pressured by the overall commander, General Hamilton, to order the attack thus giving the Turks full warning of the impending attack. On 12 August 1915 the attack was ordered across terrain varying from thick scrub to abandoned fields, all cut with dried watercourses. The purpose of the advance was to clear the area of snipers prior to a Divisional attack on Anafarta Ridge the next day. Muddle and confusion hampered the planning with the individual Battalions not receiving the warning orders that the advance was to take place and no clear objective was indicated. Eventually at 16:45 the order to advance was sounded. The start line that had been doglegged around a small hill was then subject to a muddled order that changed the direction of the Norfolks at the moment of advance. Rather than straightening the line, the bend was amplified and as the Norfolks charged a gap that opened up between them and the 8th Hants and the rest of 163 Brigade. Advancing 1,500 yards across the more favourable terrain, the Norfolks took nearly forty percent casualties. The Norfolks' Company, including men from the Royal Estate of Sandringham, were able to advance the furthest but were cut off. Mystery and fantasy has dogged this action ever since. The Brigade held a temporary line formed along a road edge for 48 hours until relieved by the Essex Brigade. From the Rifles, 3 brothers from the Urrey family together with their brother-in-law were killed, whilst among the officers two brothers, Clayton and Donald Ratsey of the legendary sailmaking firm Ratsey & Lapthorn, both Captains, were killed. Losses in each of the Battalions involved were counted in the high 300's including missing and wounded. The Rifles lost 89 men killed in action once the missing men were reclassified "presumed killed in action". In September 1915 they were moved back to Anzac Cove and evacuated in November.

Egypt and Palestine

The 1st Battalion sailed to Alexandria and to an acclimatisation camp at Sidi Bish, then to Mena Camp by the Pyramids of Giza. They moved into deployment at the Bitter Lakes on the Suez Canal. In January 1917 they marched to Mazar and in February marched across the Sinai Desert 145 miles in 12 days to El Arish. On the night of 6 April 1917 the offensive against the Turkish line at Gaza began, supported by tanks. After some success at night, the Rifles sustained major casualties in day attacks. Two hundred were kept in reserve but out of 800 who went into action only two officers and ninety men answered roll call the following evening, some being taken prisoner and subsequently transferred to Austria. At the end of April the survivors took part in a further push by General Allenby against the Gaza-Beersheba Line, attacking Gaza once again, taking few casualties. The Rifles then fought their way into Palestine, fighting in the Judaean Hills as Allenby entered Jerusalem. They remained in Palestine until the final defeat of the Turks in September 1918 when they sailed from Beirut to Alexandria and were demobbed in Cairo. When rioting broke out a cadre joined the Army of Occupation in the Sudan, eventually returning to the Isle of Wight in 1920.

Mesopotamia

In August 1916 the 2nd Battalion, manning the forts on the Isle of Wight, sent 250 men to join the 4th Hampshires at Romsey. In September they were shipped to India. From here they were landed at Basra with the Indian Army. They fought no major battles but were involved in constant skirmishing through Amarah, Kut, Ctesiphon, Persia, Turkestan, Constantinople, Salonika, Italy and France, returning home in 1919.